America's Other Audubon chronicles the story of Genevieve Jones, her family, and the making of an extraordinary nineteenth-century book, Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio. At the age of twenty-nine, Genevieve Jones, an amateur naturalist/artist and daughter of a country doctor, visited the 1876 Centennial World's Fair in Philadelphia, where she saw Audubon's paintings in Birds of America on display. His artwork inspired her to undertake the production of a book illustrating the birds nests and eggs that Audubon neglected to include in his work. Her parents were reluctant to support the undertaking of such an ambitious and expensive project until Genevieve became despondent over a broken engagement. Concerned over her fragile mental state, they encouraged her to begin the book as a distraction. Her brother collected the nests and eggs, her father paid for the publishing costs, and Genevieve and her girlhood friend learned lithography and began illustrating the specimens. The book was sold by subscription in twenty-three parts. When part one of Genevieve's work was issued, leading ornithologists praised the illustrations, and Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt added their names to the subscription list. One reviewer wrote: It is one of the most beautiful and desirable works that has ever appeared in the United States upon any branch of natural history and ranks with Audubon's celebrated work on birds. Then, suddenly, Genevieve died of typhoid fever after personally completing only five of the illustrations. Her family took up the completion of the work in her memory. They labored for seven years until the book was completed in 1886; collecting nests and eggs, drawing lithographs on stone, and hand coloring fifty copies of each illustration, and writing the field notes for each species of bird. Both the brother who collected the nests and eggs and wrote the field notes, and the mother who completed the drawings on stone and hand coloring, were stricken with typhoid fever two years after Genevieve's death and nearly died. In spite of serious damage to their health, they never gave up and labored until the book was finished. The father covered the publishing costs, which were higher than had been anticipated and were not covered by the subscription price, and ultimately lost his entire retirement savings completing the task in his daughter's memory. The mother lost her eyesight at the end of her life from the effects of typhoid fever and long hours of straining to draw and color the nests and eggs. But neither parent ever complained and considered their work on the book the most important accomplishment of their lives. When the mother's copy of the volume was exhibited on the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, it was awarded a bronze medal. Only 90 copies of the book were produced and fewer than 20 have been located today in libraries or in private collections. America's Other Audubon includes a foreword by the Curator of Natural-History Rare Books at the Smithsonian, Leslie Overstreet, a prologue and introduction by researcher and writer Joy M. Kiser (with archival photographs of the family and original advertisements and ephemera from the publication and sale of the book), the 68 original color plates of nests and eggs, plus selected field notes, a key to the eggs, and a key to the birds scientific and current common names (which have changed since the book first published in the nineteenth century). Joy Kiser has been friends with the Jones ancestors for fourteen years and has access to family photographs and documents that the general public has never seen. The Joneses story has never been fully told and no other author is better prepared to tell it.
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Reviewed by Annamaria Farbizio for Readers' Favorite America's Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser published by Princeton Architectural Press offers details about the history of amateur naturalist Genevieve Jones and her family. Over fifteen years ago, Joy Kiser was a librarian in a small Ohio town when she first saw the book Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio in a display case. The plates in the book, reminiscent of Audubon drawings, were so beautiful and rendered with exquisite details. She became intrigued by the book and by the Jones family. There was little offered about their history. When she found out that it was Genevieve Jones who had launched the project when she was only a young girl, she was even more intrigued. After attending a conference for the Society for the History of Natural History, she noticed that the next conference in 1999 was to be held in London. The Natural History Museum in London owned a copy of the book, so she began research about the book, hoping that she would be able to give a presentation about it at the conference. She followed through and gave the presentation. In the beginning, there didn't seem to be much interest, but then the Natural History Museum put the copy they had on display in response to her presentation. The acquisition editor at Princeton Architectural Press contacted Joy and the book project began. Joy researched the family history which became the preface of the book and lovingly pieced together the information that became this book within a book. The book includes a preface telling the events that led up to the book, the history of Genevieve and her family, the remarkably detailed color plates of the bird's nests and eggs, and a special reference key to the eggs. It's rare that I open the pages of a book and feel that I'm looking at a national treasure. This is the feeling I had when I reviewed this amazing book. The sixty-eight color plates in the book are some of the most beautiful and detailed that I have ever seen. When you consider the way color lithography was done in the 1870s when this book was first printed, it's a testament to Genevieve Jones and her family that such a work could have ever been created. This work was truly a labor of love and yet the story behind it is so bittersweet. Genevieve was inspired by her father's love of ornithology. He was a physician and amateur naturalist and shared his love for nature and birds with his daughter and his son. They would go on outings as he was driving their buggy back and forth from visiting patients. One day young Gennie found a bird's nest that her father Nelson and brother Howard had never seen. She combed her Dad's extensive library but couldn't find the nest. It was then that she realized that there was a need to create a scientifically detailed work of the bird's nests and eggs. Gennie was an amazing young woman. She rallied her family to support the work. Their original plan was to offer the work in installments, on a subscription basis. Nelson created a publishing business plan and pre-sold the book to twenty subscribers, many of whom were celebrated ornithologists. They planned to create 100 copies of the original work. The painstaking process they had to follow to create the original lithographs and the hand-colored versions of the book is described in the introduction to the book. Due to the small number of finished copies, most of which are housed in natural history museums, very few people have seen this aesthetically magnificent and scientifically detailed work. Sadly, Gennie died tragically of typhoid fever after suffering for three weeks at the age of thirty-two. Her parents and brother continued her life work and buried their sadness over the loss of Gennie by putting love and energy into this work. Thanks to the publication of this book, their work will be seen by a much larger audience. America's Other Audubon by Joy Kiser is a book that will be a treasure for generations to come, reminding us of a remarkable young woman and her story, the beauty of nature, and the natural wonder that is America.